Racism is a Crisis!

by Karen Nelson

The shooting of yet another Black man, Jacob Blake in Kenosha, was horrific and outrageous. During a peaceful protest, a vigilante killed two allies, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. A third ally, Gaige Grosskreutz, survived. These senseless acts of violence are an agonizing reminder of the life and death at stake if we do not get this right. NOW. 

Today’s combined crises of racism in the middle of a pandemic demonstrate the existence of institutional and structural racism and the need for government’s role in dismantling systems that harm communities of color. 

As a diversity practitioner, I have been training and facilitating conversations and workshops on racism for over 20 years. Back then, when I started, I naively made the mistake of thinking the need for my work would go away as older racists would just die off! That has not happened. Why? Babies are not born racist. Racism is taught. The ‘White Only’ signs are down, but separation continues. Cross-burnings and overt racism have been replaced with covert micro-aggressions.

History needs to be re-told completely without whitewashing. Some experts say we are in a Reconstructive moment. Let me remind you, after slavery was abolished, the Reconstruction Era barely lasted 10 years and was replaced with Jim Crow for 80 years! The Civil Rights Era lasted 30 years and just when we thought we had overcome, drug infestation, mass incarceration, and economic stagnation plague communities of color!

I’m exhausted! Yet, I’m energized by the youthful energy and generational diversity that has sprung up. Why am I hopeful?

Long before COVID-19 the City of Appleton made the commitment to G.A.R.E. – the Government Alliance on Racial Equity! Mayor Tim Hanna and I kicked off WI-G.A.R.E in 2018 with 10 jurisdictions joining our statewide learning year in 2019. The Dignity & Respect Campaign is in its third year. The 3.0 theme is – Advancing Racial Equity thru G.A.R.E.

In December of 2019, a resolution was presented, and the Appleton Board of Health recommended that racism be declared as a health crisis with its passage by the Common Council of the resolution in February 2020. From the Freedman’s Bureau Hospital being cut after slavery in 1869 through the Tuskegee Experiment 1932-1972, they have all led to today’s health disparities in the African American population. 

Why does G.A.R.E. lead with race? We explicitly focus on race to change the narrative and move the conversation forward, which benefits us all! When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was originally drafted, the focus was black civil rights. Women were added as a protected class. To this day, white women’s progress has undeniably prevailed. The Stonewall, New York riots in 1968 led to the rise of the LGBTQ community who now enjoy marriage equality. It took until 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, for us all to benefit from closed-captioning. When we focus on race, we ALL benefit. Stay tuned for more details as Mayor Jake Woodford and I lead the City of Appleton’s G.A.R.E. Team forward.

It’s time for transformative, positive change. In the words of Langston Hughes in 1935, “America is an idea who has yet to live up to its ideal, not yet – aspirational at best.”

Let’s make that aspiration a reality in Appleton because WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER!

For more information contact Karen Nelson at diversity@appleton.org or 920-832-1564. 


Members of the G.A.R.E. CORE Team working on the vision for Racial Equity in The City of Appleton.
L-R in photo: Kurt Eggebrecht, Appleton Health Officer, Tasha Saecker, Appleton Public Library Deputy Director, Karen Nelson and Pa Lee Moua, AASD Diversity Equity & Inclusion Officer

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